The Bigger Picture of Bullying in Roller Derby

Each year it seems that debate begins on what actually constitutes “bullying”. For me, it’s:

Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behaviour, abuse of power, or unfair punishment which upsets, threatens and/or humiliates the recipient(s), undermining their self-confidence, reputation and ability to perform.

Bullying at work: how to tackle it. A guide for MSF representatives and members: MSF 1995

One of my platforms for Pink Shirt Day this year was to shed light on the abuse and mistreatment toward officials that I have experienced and witnessed first hand time and time again. Personally, as an official I am not trying to raise awareness about being “yelled” at. I’m trying to raise awareness about verbal abuse. To me, it’s about the difference between a skater or coach saying “oh, what the ****?” versus “Oh, what the **** was that? Are you a ****ing moron?” or “Oh, **** you. You’ll never ****ing officiate here again!”. Emotional outbursts happen in sport. I understand that and I think that most other officials do as well. What I personally have an issue with is when those outbursts are accompanied with insults, slurs, put downs, intimidation, threats and more that, unfortunately, often also extends beyond a derby event where it cannot be address with an “Insubordination” or “Misconduct” penalty. I’m talking about the brand new referee who was screamed at, had skaters right in his/her face, was being intimidated, insulted, disrespected and blamed by their league for a loss after one of the very first times they ever officiated a derby game. I’m talking about that hard-working, dedicated, volunteer HR whose credibility and character was viciously attacked on social media by a skater or team who didn’t like his or her calls. I’m talking about that official that was verbally abused by an upset team during a bout then was told they are never welcome back by that league again.

I’m talking about this person:

Volunteer Ref Abuse 1

Roller Derby is a sport in which countless leagues struggle to recruit and maintain skaters, coaches and officials. It is a sport in which leagues are often without practice space, cannot secure a permanent venue and that the news and media is not quick to support or shed light on. Can we really afford to accept these sort of behaviors as the community strives to be seen and accepted as a legitimate sport? These sorts of things happening in other sports shouldn’t make it “okay” or “normal”. It is in my opinion that abuse, bullying and exclusivity should not be a common thing, brushed aside as “that’s just competitive sport”. Let’s not loose sigh of the positive ideal that the resurgence was built upon.

And let’s not forget that these officials are often your boyfriends, girlfriends, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors and coworkers that you have asked to help you staff your events. You have extended them a hand and said “please help us out, try it out and get involved!” They were not highly qualified, trained officials brought in by the WFTDA or another governing body. They are often not professional referees and NSOs making their living upholding the rules and regulations of the sport. Don’t bite the hand the feeds you.

The very organization that most leagues follow, be they official members or not, calls for respect, dignity and fairness in the treatment of ALL members. Officials included. If you’re going to utilize the organization’s rule set, protocols and procedures then it shouldn’t matter if it’s a huge tournament bout or an open scrim one Sunday morning, I feel this should always apply:

Officials Exempt...But abuse toward volunteer officials is just ONE of the messages that I chose to personally send. Derby Frontier’s Pink Shirt Day campaign wasn’t intended to solely be about referees. It’s about the women, men and juniors in all across the world who have experienced bullying in this sport and others. It is about that skater who is not included socially, who is passive aggressively insulted, constantly gets criticized by team mates, has his or her ideas/input put down and is the subject of league gossip. The skater who is being talked about behind their back, who is being yelled at and singled our for no real reason, who is berated and ostracized by their captain or coach in front of the other and who is treated differently than everyone else.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen newer derby girls quit the sport after being blatantly bullied out by their peers for one reason or another. Rookie and intermediate skaters reduced to tears from the social exclusion, eye rolling, put downs and passive-aggressive insults from their peers who don’t see them as dedicated enough or progressing fast enough. Committee/board members intimidated out of their positions for not conforming to the demands of a power figure/button pusher. Coaches or trainers bullied out of their roles by a captain who felt their power was threatened or by a board member who wanted more track time because he or she felt they “deserved it”. It happens. ALL THE TIME. I’ve personally seen it again and again and again and I’m sure many of you have as well. Well I’m here to say that ignoring it, turning your back on it, trying to convince yourself it isn’t happening or to trivialize the event only adds to the problem and makes it that much worst and more common. Please don’t feed bullying and abuse with denial, ignorance and indifference!

These negative, damaging behaviors and situations CAN be stopped and the first step is standing up, saying ENOUGH and being a voice for positive change through speaking out against it.

That being said, this in no way, whatsoever, means that I am encouraging anyone out there to start calling out and shaming people. Share your experiences of abuse or bullying but please strive to do so without bullying, shaming or being abusive yourself. Merely that I hope you all join me and many others around the derby community in conversation about what is and isn’t unacceptable behavior in a sport that includes women, men and children of all walks of life.

Every story deserves to be heard. Please feel free to share yours here, send it to us at or share it on our Facebook Page.


IntensityWritten by Kevin “Kevlar” Dennison

And knowing is half the battle!